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Why is PR Critical for Businesses and Organisations?

Bill Gates allegedly once said, ‘if I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.’ Considering the business mogul founded the largest tech company on the planet, you’d have thought other brands would be chomping at the bit to up their PR spend.

On the contrary. A 2023 study by Wild PR revealed that public relations is low on the priority list for UK businesses, with 88% saying they don’t employ any PR tactics.

If you’re one of them, it’s time to rethink your marketing strategy, as PR is critical to the success of your business or organisation.

But what is PR exactly?

Women in an office wih flowers and laptop

Public relations is notoriously tricky to define. As Spin Sucks points out in this blog post, even PR pros struggle to articulate what it is they do.

No wonder two in ten execs don’t know what ‘PR’ stands for. But, to understand why it matters, you need to know what PR is.

So let’s break it down by the letter. PR stands for public relations.

The ‘public’ is anyone that’s critical to the success of your business, i.e. your staff, investors, customers, and prospects. And improving your brand image to build good ‘relations’ with the public is what PR is all about.

Public relations is the strategies you use to do both of these things, be it product launches, thought-leadership events, hashtag campaigns, or innovative PR stunts.

And the aim is to attract glowing third-party endorsement.

And why is PR important?

That’s what public relations is. But why is it an essential tool in your marketing kit? For one thing, it’s the most trusted form of marketing, as it’s earned not bought.

To explain what we mean, let’s look at the difference between paid and earned media and why earned media is so key.

1. The power of earned media

Man reading a newspaper face covered

Bought, or paid media is any form of advertising that you pay for. It includes traditional media such as television and print ads, as well as digital media. Think search engine ads, social media ads, and sponsored content.

Whereas earned media is free, unsolicited coverage or promotion your business receives from the media and your fans.

It can take many forms, from online reviews and YouTube comments to press mentions and retweets. And unlike paid media, you ‘earn’ it through your PR efforts.

So, that’s the difference between paid and earned media. But why is earned media more trusted?

Business planning brand Bplans sums it up nicely in a blog post; consumers are ‘more inclined to believe what an uninvolved “third party”; a friend, neighbour, or unbiased reviewer has to say than an advertisement or paid communication…as the reviewer has nothing to gain or lose by giving an honest opinion.’

Makes sense, right? And it’s backed up by comms brand Cision, which says that 92% of consumers trust earned media over any other form of advertising.

Want to deep dive into the different types of media? Read: PR 101: The Difference Between Paid, Owned and Earned Media.

Earned media strategies

So, earned media is a powerful way to build trust with your audience. But, as Prezly says in a blog post, it’sthe hardest kind of attention to get…because you can’t buy it and you can’t create it for yourself’.

That may be the case, but you can boost your chances by employing a few savvy PR tactics.

Here are three for starters:

Utilise review links

Make it easy for customers to leave reviews by adding a review link to your website, social media profiles, and transactional emails. You can generate one for free via Google.

If there’s no uptake, add an incentive. 5% off a future purchase should seal the deal.

Product sampling

Product sampling is an experiential marketing strategy that involves giving away free product samples to customers. The aim is to boost brand awareness, trust, and sales. It’s also a great way to generate reviews.

You can either run your own sampling campaign and ask users to submit their feedback or use a company like The Sampling Project to do it for you.

Either way, it’s a win-win tactic. Consumers get to try before they buy. And you benefit from user feedback and precious earned media.

Respond to media requests

Journalists often seek out quotes, comments, or interviews from experts in the industry they’re writing about.

These asks are known as media requests. And many are submitted via the #JournoRequest hashtag.

If you spot a relevant request and respond quickly, it’s a quick and easy way to score free coverage. But be warned: if your response is irrelevant, or fails to meet the reporter’s requirements, it’ll be binned, along with your chance of coverage.

Find out how to craft the perfect media response by reading: How to respond to media requests.

2. Communicating your purpose

Man in scarf and hat

Earned media is not the only reason to make PR a strategic priority. It’s the most authentic way to communicate your brand purpose.

What do we mean by brand purpose? Harvard Business Review defines it as ‘an aspirational reason for being which inspires and provides a call to action for an organization and its partners and stakeholders and provides benefit to local and global society.’

Put another way, it’s the reason your business exists beyond making money. For example, the purpose of electric car brand Tesla is to ‘accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.’

While ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s is working to ‘meet human needs and eliminate injustices in our local, national, and international communities’.

Purpose over profit

That’s what brand purpose is. But why is it important? Because consumers are increasingly prioritising purpose over valueThey’re choosing brands that align with their values, advocate for a cause, and tell a story they can believe in. This is evident from research.

According to RevBoss, 94% of consumers expect brands they interact with to have a strong purpose. And a study by Zeno found that consumers are four times more likely to purchase from a company with purpose, and 4.1 times more likely to trust it.

But it’s not just consumers that care. According to a survey by business leader Paul Polman, 66% of UK employees want to work for a company that has a positive impact on the world. And 45% will consider resigning if the values of the company did not align with their own.

The numbers speak volumes. A clearly defined brand purpose is not a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have.

But what’s PR got to do with it? It’s how you communicate your purpose to the world.

Don’t Buy This Jacket

Don't buy this jacket

Take Patagonia. The outdoor clothing brand has a clear purpose-driven mission: ‘we’re in the business to save our home planet’. And it demonstrates its commitment to the planet through purpose-driven PR campaigns.

In the run-up to Christmas 2011, the brand launched a provocative PR campaign to raise awareness of the environmental impact of consumerism and promote sustainability.

The campaign took the form of a full-page advert in The New York Times, featuring a prominent image of the brand’s bestselling jacket with the tagline, ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’.

It goes without saying, discouraging consumers from buying your products is counter intuitive. But it shows Patagonia takes its values seriously. The brand explained its unconventional approach on its website.

‘We’re in business to make and sell products. Everyone’s paycheck relies on that.’

[But] ‘it would be hypocritical for us to work for environmental change without encouraging customers to think before they buy…it’s part of our mission to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.’ The statement goes on to say ‘why the provocative headline if we’re only asking people to buy less and buy more thoughtfully? To call attention to the issue in a strong, clear way.’

Well said. And the ad had the desired effect. It attracted a ton of global publicity and boosted sales by 30%.

Purpose and profit go hand-in-hand

Patagonia’s campaign success goes to show that taking a stand is good for the planet and your bottom line.

And that purpose-led public relations is a crucial part of the puzzle. But social responsibility has to be done ethically. If you make false claims or try to hoodwink the public, the fallout will be ugly. And you’ll need public relations for another reason: crisis management.

Case in point: Volkswagen.

In 2015, the German car brand made international headlines for all the wrong reasons after rigging its cars with defeat devices that cheated US emissions testing. The brand had bragged about the green credentials of its cars for years, branding its engines as ‘clean diesel’. But behind-the-scenes, it was poisoning the planet and lying to customers. And it cost the company dearly.

Operating profits plunged and the brand had to fork out $4.3 billion in penalties.  And, as this article by the Drum points out, trust in the brand was at an all-time low. You’ve been warned.

Want to know how to to do CSR right? Read: What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

3. Reputation management

Woman on top of mountain

The VW disaster brings us on to the third reason why PR is non-negotiable for businesses and organisations.

Reputation management. Defined by marketer Jake Hughes as ‘the act of monitoring, generating, and responding to customer engagement to improve brand image,’ it’s a vital component of public relations.

Why? Because – and let’s use another much repeated quote from another American entrepreneur – ‘it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it’, as Warren Buffet once said.

If you think Mr Buffet was being melodramatic, think again. In the age of social media, where bad news travels at lightning speed, all it takes is one tweet from a disgruntled customer to go viral and your reputation can nosedive in 30 seconds.

Failure to land

EasyJet backless seat tweet

Ask low-cost airline, easyJet. In 2019, a passenger on a flight from London to Geneva tweeted a photo of a woman sitting on a backless seat, with the following caption:

‘#easyJet beats @Ryanair to have backless seats. @IATA @EASA this is flight 2021 Luton to Geneva. How can this be allowed @GeneveAeroport @easyJet_press @easyJet’

Within hours, the tweet had gone viral, garnering over 40,000 likes, 20,000 retweets. And the airline was bombarded with criticism from outraged members of the public.

‘That’s a massive risk for neck injury on take-off and landing (apart from everything else that’s wrong with this)’ said one user. ‘That’s shameful! So dangerous’, said another.

In easyJet’s defence, the seat was out of commission and the woman had been placed in it temporarily. But that’s not the story that did the rounds. By the time the airline caught wind of the issue and tried to set the record straight, they’d lost control of the narrative.

The importance of reputation management

Thankfully, the backless seat debacle didn’t do any long-term damage to EasyJet’s long-term reputation. But it goes to show how quickly an issue can escalate without proactive reputation management. And considering 94% of consumers avoid businesses with bad reviews, it’s a practice you can’t afford to forego.

How to manage your reputation

Ready to put your ear to the ground and listen to the buzz around your business? Here’s what to do:

  • Create a Google Alert. You’ll get notified when your business is mentioned online. If there’s an unfair or untrue story about your brand, you can ask Google to remove it from its search results.
  • Reply to comments on social media. You can use a tool like Talkwalker to monitor mentions.
  • Monitor and respond to reviews, both good and bad, on review sites such as Google Reviews, Yelp and Trustpilot.
  • Challenge false information in news articles.

Want to learn the nuts and bolts of reputation management? Read: Online Reputation Management. What is it? And why is it important?

Final word on the importance of PR

So why is PR critical for businesses and organisations? Public relations can help you establish trust, communicate your purpose, and protect your brand from reputational damage.

And these are just a few of its many talents. If you’re not taking advantage, it’s time to set your strategy and start reaping the rewards.

Want to join the PR revolution? Call me now on +44 (0)77604 70309

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